Saturday, January 28, 2012


One of my great teachers suggested that when at the airport, waiting in the queue at the supermarket, or for coffee at the espresso bar, it would behoove we students of anatomy to study the people around us. He was not one of those people who believed there was such a thing as "good posture." Every person's gait, posture and method of moving through the world reflects structure, of course, but also reflects what we do and how often we do it. The truth is, we actually need a few quirks of asymmetrical posture to get through the days of our lives.

He was very smart. The body does indeed work diligently to support whatever it is we do on a daily basis. Instead trying to to "fix" a person with one elevated shoulder, (for instance) he invited us to imagine first and foremost why that shoulder is raised, and proceed from there. In general, the anatomy of acoustic bass players (for instance) reflects the asymmetrical posture needed to play the instrument, which includes an elevated left shoulder that is posterior to the midline, and a right shoulder that hangs a bit lower, anterior to the midline. To imagine these people holding the neck of the bass with the left hand while reaching around to the front of the instrument to pluck or bow with the right helps me understand why their bodies are shaped in this way. It increases my ability to be compassionate and decreases any ambition I might have to "set them straight." I am able to ask myself what else might be tight or contracted as a result of bass playing rather than thinking in terms of what's "wrong." For instance, acoustic bass players often jut their heads forward, probably in an effort to stay focused on the music stand in front of them. So I pay special attention to the base of the skull and the neck - not to fix or change, rather to bring ease to that area.

Have you ever thought about your own habits of posture?

There are characteristic poses I notice when people get on the table, such as the fact that most people habitually turn their heads to face the right. When I gently position their heads so they're looking straight at the ceiling, it feels to them as if they're looking to the left. Also the right leg of many people is rotated laterally compared to the left leg. It's interesting to think about. We're a right handed, right sided kind of culture. We tend to lead with the right side of the body. Not everyone, of course, but many, even left-handed people sometimes.

When the body is placed in a certain posture often enough, it will respond by increasing the number of collagen strings in the muscles that are most engaged. That makes those muscles tougher, denser, which in turn means the muscles do not require as much energy to stay engaged. People who read a lot of books develop, over time, a semi-permanent crick in their cervical vertebrae from looking down so often. This crick, reinforced over time, can appear as a small hump on the back where the neck meets the ribcage. It's not really a hump, of course. It's a cluster of hardened tissue, built up over time to support the posture. People who are always sitting at computers find it difficult to stand up straight. Also it's sometimes not possible for these hard working people to completely straighten their arms.

As a bodyworker I am not here to interfere with the corporeal intelligence that makes it possible for these people to live their lives. I'm here to remind the body that there are a variety of postures available and to perhaps slightly increase range of motion. Slightly.

Habitual posture also reflects the way people think, believe it or not. It does! You can learn a lot about a person simply by noticing posture and movement. I'll write about that tomorrow.

Will you stand up and do some stretching at some point today? No matter what your body's postural habits, stretching helps move blood and lymph, warms muscle attachments and feels really good. Seriously it is pleasurable.

Have a wonderful Saturday. Shalom.


d.a. said...

Love the photo of the bassist, someone you know?

Reya Mellicker said...

I wish! He's hot eh? A googled image that illustrates my point.

Val said...

s-t-r-e-t-c-h mmm feels so good

Angela said...

Very interesting, as always. Good points. I am stretching now, too!